Sustainable aviation fuels centre to be built in South Yorkshire

The University of Sheffield will develop a novel centre – the first of its kind in Europe – to lead the research, innovation and testing of sustainable aviation fuels.

The Sustainable Aviation Fuels Innovation Centre (SAF-IC), which is part of the University’s Energy Institute, will deliver world-leading, advanced facilities to assess, verify and deploy new sustainable aviation fuels.

Development of a ‘clearing house’

Through collaborative funding between the European Regional Development Fund and the University of Sheffield, the centre will be situated at the University of Sheffield Innovation District and will behave as a ‘clearing house’ with resources to assess and validate fuels. SAF-IC will be the first centre in Europe to acquire CO₂, generate green hydrogen, transform them into sustainable aviation fuels and evaluate their performance in one location.

Currently, a clearing house is recognised as the missing link that will aid the manufacturers of sustainable aviation fuels with bringing their products to market. Having a facility with these resources in the UK will speed up regulatory authorisations of new fuels and give the UK certification capabilities.

SAF-IC will act as a development hub for the research and scaling-up of sustainable aviation fuels, delivering laboratory and testing space on top of coordination and networking facilities.

The facility will operate alongside the adjacent Translational Energy Research Centre, which is a national pilot-scale testing facility, also part of the University of Sheffield, that has been designed to support advanced research and offer necessary testing capabilities to assist the development of sustainable aviation fuels for commercial use.

Cutting the UK’s carbon emissions with sustainable aviation fuels

Sustainable aviation fuels are crucial to decreasing Britain’s carbon emissions. In the UK, the aviation sector is accountable for almost 7% of the country’s overall carbon emissions, and this number is steadily increasing. However, aviation’s dependence on fossil fuels presents a challenge in achieving decarbonisation in the industry.

While it is anticipated that novel technologies will propel planes in the future, at the moment, it is broadly considered that the most optimal way to assist the industry with its decarbonisation effort is to replace fossil fuels with fuels comprised of sustainable materials, like agricultural waste and waste oils. Producing sustainable aviation fuels that are a feasible commercial alternative for the aviation industry may decrease the UK’s emissions in 2050 by 32%.

The UK government has recognised the significance of sustainable aviation by incorporating aspirations for ‘jet zero’ in its Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution.

Driving forward sustainable innovation

Director of the University of Sheffield Energy Institute and Managing Director for the Sustainable Aviation Fuels Innovation Centre, Professor Mohamed Pourkashanian, commented: “We are extremely excited to be establishing this state-of-the-art innovation centre in the heart of the University of Sheffield Innovation District. SAF-IC will help the UK to determine the best pathways to net-zero aviation and play a crucial role nationally and internationally in delivering truly sustainable flight.

“One of the most unique and critical aspects of SAF-IC is that the centre will be the first of its kind to research fuels which are made without any fossil fuels in the process, including improving understanding of how we can use bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) to make a negative emissions fuel.

“SAF-IC will enable businesses and academics to drive forward their research and technology at a swift pace thanks to its technical and clearing house abilities, allowing the nation to work in line with the targets set by the Department for Transport for net-zero emissions from aviation by 2050.”

The development of this novel centre has now started, and is expected to be fully operational by July 2022.

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